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The world’s largest libertarian student organization — with over 1,500 volunteers across the globe, Students For Liberty (SFL) today condemned the U.S. government’s successful attempts to pressure online classified ad platform Backpage.com into closing their “Adult” section.

The closure is the culmination of years of government pressure, with authorities justifying their actions on the basis that Backpage.com could create a market for child sex-trafficking. As Reason.com’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown put it, “Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and his associates have been subject to lawsuits, criminal charges, economic bullying, and Congressional hearings…in an attempt to thwart this supposed sex trade.”

Daniel Pryor, Media Relations Associate at Students For Liberty, said:

“The congressional inquiry into Backpage.com is the perfect example of how overbearing government tramples on First Amendment rights and ultimately harms marginalized groups.

The government has pressured credit card companies into boycotting the website and subjected Backpage.com to what The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation call an “invasive, burdensome inquiry” that “creates an intense chilling effect” on Internet freedom.

This is a worrying attack on freedom of expression in the online world.

Sex worker rights organizations and activists have also drawn attention to the various ways in which the closure of Backpage.com’s Adult section will negatively impact sex workers. Student sex workers, often entering the adult industry in response to the artificially high cost of college caused by government subsidies, are no exception. Regardless of one’s personal views on sex work, big government should not be interfering with free contract between consenting adults.

Perhaps most tragically, the government’s actions will make life more difficult for victims of child sex trafficking. Lawmakers congratulating themselves for this misguided moral crusade are ignoring the crucial role that Backpage.com played in cooperating with law enforcement to identify children victimized by prostitution.”

Students For Liberty is committed to defending free expression, whether it takes place on college campuses or the Internet. We also stand with coalitions like the Desiree Alliance and organizations like Amnesty International in calling for full decriminalization of sex work and condemning the U.S. government’s war on the consensual adult industry.

Our activists hold a variety of personal opinions on sex work, but are united on the question of decriminalization. Anna Shnaidman, SFL’s National Coordinator for Israel, opposes sex work on a personal level but believes that government intervention in the adult industry (whether legalization or criminalization) “hurts the people it claims to protect and is a tragedy despite good intentions.” Students across the United States are increasingly wary of government attempts to curtail freedom of expression and sexual freedom, even in less publicized areas such as adult ads.

Students For Liberty and our network of activists are regularly featured in national and international media outlets on a wide variety of topics. Below are some examples of SFL’s media presence during December 2016.

  • We’ve been leading the fight against counterproductive vaping regulations in North America. In the USA, our Senior Development Officer Yaël Ossowski criticized the Nanny State’s anti-vaping bias here.
  • Meanwhile, our Director of North American Programs David Clement joined Ossowski in arguing against proposed e-cigarette regulations in Canada here as part of our ongoing #NoNanny campaign. Clement has also made appearances on various radio stations to discuss SFL’s activism in this area.
  • The growth of Students For Liberty was highlighted in French newspaper La Croix as a key example of how classical liberal ideas are becoming more popular amongst young people. Read the full article in French here.
  • Bill Wirtz, a local coordinator at European Students For Liberty, wrote about Europe’s war on tobacco for the Mises Institute here.
  • Jake Goldberg, a sophomore at Tufts University and guest contributor at Students For Liberty, detailed his experiences of fighting against harmful campus speech codes on Rare.us. Read the full article here.

 

November was a busy month at Students For Liberty.

Read the highlights of what our North American team has been up to!

Free pro-liberty activism kits distributed across the USA

activism kits pngEarly in November, Students For Liberty opened applications for our all-new activism kits! These free kits are full of awesome tabling materials to help libertarian campus groups promote the ideas of a free and open society. Highlights in every kit include “End The Drug War” posters, “Don’t Drone Me Bro” stickers, “Stop Watching Us” USB sticks pre-loaded with the anonymous Tor internet browser, and “Don’t Tread On Anyone” bumper stickers! So far, the kits have been distributed to our activists at almost 100 different college campuses in 31 different states across the United States.

Peace, Love, Liberty campaign brings anti-war message to US campuses

Our recently-launched Peace, Love, Liberty grant program is receiving an influx of applications. Interventionism in foreign policy has been a crucial element of mainstream political platforms for decades in U.S. politics, but many libertarians see a foreign policy based on restraint as an essential element in the fight for freedom and prosperity across the world. These $250 grants aim to bring libertarian ideas to an area where they are sorely needed: foreign policy. Applications are still open!

Open Letter to College Democrats met with enthusiasm

New repubOur “Open Letter to College Democrats was picked up by Graham Vyse at the New Republic, who devoted an entire article to explaining the ways in which libertarians and progressives can cooperate on certain issues. In the wake of November’s election, Students For Liberty are emphasizing that we will work with groups from across the political spectrum to promote pro-liberty ideas. We are eager to build coalitions on issues like immigration reform, the failed War on Drugs, and criminal justice reform. Read the full New Republic article here.

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Donald Trump

“Donald J. Trump’s win upset many college students across the nation.” (Courtesy of Ninian Reid via Flickr Creative Commons)

Donald J. Trump’s win upset many college students across the nation, leading to classes being called off, students walking out of their classes in protest and colleges creating more safe spaces. Fortunately, College of Charleston did not follow the trend of coddling students or intolerance towards differing views. Despite that the college would be rated by FIRE as “red light” based on their policy review, which means the school has at least one policy that is not in line with the First Amendment, the College maintained itself as a place of higher learning, where students freely exchange their ideas regardless of how controversial they may be.

No incidents of suppressed speech took place on campus until November 15th, when Glenn F. McConnell, the President of the College, emailed students and faculty members reminding them that in the aftermath of the elections, “it is our duty as Americans and members of the College of Charleston to treat each other with kindness and empathy. No matter the political divide, we must always be tolerant of each other’s views.” However, he added, “Hateful speech and actions will not be tolerated at the College.” The issue here is how vague the term “hateful speech” is, since it holds a subjective meaning. Further, much of what people consider “hateful speech” is generally protected.

FIRE

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a non-profit group founded in 1999 that focuses on civil liberties in academia in the United States. (Courtesy of FIRE)

Public universities, which includes the College of Charleston, must abide by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech that includes, “certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages, according to Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971). For example, messages like “Trump 2016″ that were written in chalk on Emory University’s campus were viewed as “hateful speech” by some students, but regardless of how they feel about it, the chalk message is protected under the First Amendment. Universities should only intervene when speech is a form of harassment, or “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

"The College has always maintained a culture that invites ideas from all spectrums." (Courtesy of Mogollon via Flickr Creative Commons)

“The College has always maintained a culture that invites ideas from all spectrums.” (Courtesy of Mogollon via Flickr Creative Commons)

Although I commend President McConnell for reminding students “to treat each other with kindness and empathy” and “always be tolerant of each other’s views,” he had it wrong when he said “hateful speech” should not be tolerated, especially when the term is too broad and can easily label an expression that is not “hateful” in nature. To advance free speech on campus, we must embrace all ideas and viewpoints, even those that are controversial. It is the diversity in thought that will mold students to become mature intellectuals that are well prepared for the real world after graduation.

Even at the height of the political unrest that stems from the elections, the College has always maintained a culture that invites ideas from all spectrums and allows students to engage in free expression through classroom discussions and civil discourse with fellow peers. Let us replace our notion of “hateful speech,” which is too subjective and broad, with a principled commitment to “freedom of expression.”


This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page

October was a busy month at Students For Liberty. Read the highlights of what our North American team have been up to!

Regional Conference season in full swing!

TVirginia RChis weekend sees our final two events in what has been an extraordinary Regional Conference season. During October, hundreds of students across North America have come together to discuss the ideas of liberty. From Utah to Florida, young people interested in various aspects of creating a free society heard from a diverse range of speakers, ranging from sex worker rights activists to ex-SFLers who have become libertarian economics professors.

Students across North America “Get Out The Liberty”

Our Get Out The Liberty (#GOTL) campaign was wildly successful. So far, we’ve accepted 75 applications for these $250 grants, which are aimed at activism and recruitment for pro-liberty groups on campus. Events funded by the grants have ranged from tabling and recruitment drives to our nationwide Deep Web screenings. Based on the success of the GOTL campaign, we’ve now launched our Peace, Love, Liberty grant program: aiming to promote non-interventionist foreign policy.

Ethan FSBig free speech rally at UMD

Huge congratulations to our activists at College Park Students For Liberty, who hosted a well-attended free speech rally that generated substantial media coverage. The event saw SFLers collaborate with Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog Brewery, as well as other campus groups. Ethan Pritchard, the Chapter President of SFL College Park, told the audience that universities are “sending a message that it’s okay to shelter yourself and to just go without hearing other people’s opinions and that you’ll be fine your entire life, and that’s not how it is.”

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